I read this book for a college literature class and can remember thinking, “THAT’S the Great American Novel? Really? What is all the fuss about?” I found all the characters so unlikeable that I couldn’t bring myself to care what happened to them, and I never gave the book a second thought.
However, this is going to be my year for “second-chance books” — re-reading or finishing books I disliked or abandoned when I was younger. I got interested in rereading The Great Gatsby by John Green’s “Crash Course Literature” videos about it. In this first video he addresses his “me from the past” character who interjects with exactly the same issues about the book that Trudy-from-the-past had and argues that you can’t judge the value of a book by the likeability of its characters. I realize that that’s true, but I think it’s hard to become emotionally engaged with a book if you can’t care about what happens to the characters, and you can’t care about people if there’s absolutely nothing about them that stirs your empathy.
After watching the John Green videos, my fifteen-year-old son decided he wanted to read The Great Gatsby, and loved it. (Subsequently John Green also got him to read Catcher in the Rye, but neither for Chris nor for John Green nor for the blog can I bring myself to attempt that again). So I decided to give it another try. My capacity for empathy must be greater in my 40s than it was in my late teens (I would hope so!) because characters that I found annoying before — particularly Daisy and Gatsby — I found poignant and sad this time, and with a better sense of history I can appreciate better the book as a product of its time. It was definitely worth a re-read, and I hope that will be true of most of the books I reread this year. We’ll see.